St. Petersburg Times, Tampa Edition Wednesday, June 11, 2003 Tampa and State Section, Page 4B Church drops venue change Scientologists will allow the upcoming trial to "determine the ability to empanel and unbiased jury." By ROBERT FARLEY Times staff writer CLEARWATER - Church of Scientology officials thought hard before making public a survey they commissioned that found widespread negative opinions about Scientology. The church used the survey to argue that negative media reports had prejudiced Tampa Bay area residents so badly that the church would not get a fair trial in an upcoming civil case. The trial should be moved, they said. Church officials knew the survey would mean a public relations hit, church spokesman Ben Shaw said two weeks ago. "What we came down on was the side of justice," Shaw said. "Let the chips fall where they may." But Monday, the church withdrew its motion for a change of venue. The turnaround came after Judge W. Douglas Baird wrote a letter to the church's attorneys noting his wife is a reporter for the Tampa Tribune, and that his 'circle of social acquaintances" includes staffers at both the Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times. Baird wrote that with the church claiming that media outlets "are largely responsible for what the (church) perceives is widespread hostility and prejudice against Scientology, I am concerned about a potential conflict of interest." Church of Scientology attorney Wally Pope sent Baird a letter Monday stating that he had conferred with church officials. The trial is in less than four weeks, he said, "where there will be a first hand opportunity to determine the ability to empanel an unbiased jury, or not." The church is defending itself in the lawsuit filed by the estate of former Scientologist Lisa McPherson, who died in 1995 after being cared for by church staffers. The change of venue motion came in a countersuit against the McPherson estate and its attorney, Ken Dandar.
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